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Whitewater rafting the Balsa River class II-III rapids

Whitewater rafting the Balsa River class II-III rapids

Destination: Arenal


  • Family adventure
  • Good for beginners
  • Lunch and transportation included


  • Location : Arenal
  • Hours : 11:00 a.m. daily
  • Time length : 4.5 hours
  • Price : From $75 per person, with lunch
  • Minimum age : 10 years old

Bright orange flowers fall from the poro trees that line the banks of the Balsa River. Shaped like tiny machetes, the orange flowers cling to the sides of the raft and slide off in the rapids. Rafting the Balsa takes first-timers through the Costa Rican countryside on class II and III rapids along a seven-mile stretch of river.

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Taking advantage of the dam upriver, the rafting company plans trips for 11 a.m., at the same time the dam releases water. The higher water level swells the riverbanks and make swift rapids. The class II rapids are mostly wide-open channels with small waves and easy rapids while the class III rapids are narrower, with larger waves and boulders that require more technical navigating.

Note* Make sure to bring your swimsuit, a change of clothes, sunscreen and a pair of water shoes, old sneakers, or sandals with strips (no flip-flops). Water-proof cameras are okay, but a professional photographer also comes along to take your picture.

Teamwork on the river

Sitting in the raft, still on dry land, you'll learn the basics: paddling forward and backward learning to work together.  With your practice session over, it's time to dive into the small waves on a set of class II rapids. Following the commands of your guide paddle through the first set and try not to bump paddles with your partners.

The first section of the trip is nearly non-stop, clear one set of rapids only to meet the next challenge with enough time to clap your paddles over your heads and yell "Pura Vida" - Costa Rica's unofficial motto.

You'll find it's not long before everything falls into place. With each rapid, you get better, the teamwork gets tighter. By the end of the first section, you're expertly following commands and working together as a team.

The lower section of the river affords a little more free time than the first half. With more scenic views and class I flat water, the river becomes a leisurely ride through the countryside and jungle. Herons and egrets perch on rocks drying their wings and scouting for fish. Up high in sparsely-leafed cecropia trees, guides point out napping two-toed sloths.

Passing from the tall grasses of the brave cane (similar to sugar cane), a wall of green rainforest trees and plants appears growing along near vertical cliff face. Pass into a set of class II rapids, as giant waves swell up and crash over the front of the raft. The final test of teamwork comes in a rapid called the 'washing machine'. Paddling in opposite directions, you'll spin in circles, faster and faster as you roll over the rapids and come to a rest underneath a bridge after the two-hour trip.

While guides load-up the rafts, you'll have the chance to change into dry clothes and recount stories with your new friends. On your way back into Arenal, you'll stop by La Casona Rio Fortuna, the home of Costa Rican former president Rafael Iglesias, for a buffet-style lunch prepared over a wood stove including rice, beans, vegetables, plantains and a choice of meat like beef or chicken. While you eat, you can look over the day's pictures taken by a professional photographer.

Departure & Return

  • Departure point : Tour departs from all major hotels in San Jose and La Fortuna
  • Departure time : Hotel pickup is between 20 and 50 minutes before tour start time depending on hotel location. In San Jose pick up is three hours before tour start time.
  • Return details : Tour returns to original departure point between three and four hours after tour start time. For San Jose, the return is expected to be at 9 p.m.

Whitewater rafting the Balsa River class II-III rapids in Pictures

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